Some North Carolina schools are gunning to get a pass on poor academic performances. The State Board of Education is considering a change in policy that would provide greater flexibility in how the state deals with charter schools that fail to meet academic targets.
The current policy requires the state to begin the process of revoking a school’s charter if it doesn’t meet academic growth targets for two of the past three years and if less than 60 percent of students pass the state exams.
However, Charter School Advisory Board members are arguing that the 60 percent passing rate cut-off was set before Common Core changes and when average passing rates on state exams were much higher at 80 percent statewide. Now the average is about 56 percent.
Under the proposal, the State Board of Education could take a range of actions when a charter school misses academic targets – from doing nothing to beginning the revocation process. The Board could also opt to put the failing charter up for competitive bid to have another entity take it over, require the school to write a plan for improvement, or take other actions.
So, here’s the rub, as I see it. This is a tale of public entities trying to make rules in the midst of a flawed system of student testing and school accountability. It makes sense that the Board should be able to evaluate the charter school failings on a case-by-case basis. It is entirely possible that a school could miss these targets and still be doing good work. It is entirely possible that a school could miss these targets and still have performance and outcomes better than traditional public schools.
But – and it’s a big but – charter schools in NC are already seriously lacking in accountability. The very fact that these schools could currently meet academic targets only every other year and stay open is troubling. Financial oversight and management is often sorely lacking in charter schools. Teachers are exempt from many of the same requirements as public schools. Charter schools may be much less diverse than neighboring public schools.
Charter Schools do this while receiving taxpayer funds and siphoning desperately needed funds from public schools.
By giving the State Board greater leeway when it comes to failing schools, the Board becomes vulnerable to pressure – from charter management companies, from parents, from politicians – to keep these school doors open, no matter the costs to students. While the Board does good work for North Carolina, it is essentially a political body made up of the Lieutenant Governor, the State Treasurer, and 11 other members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Legislature.
How well will these politicians stand up to the pressure?
And let’s not forget that charter school management is big business that brings with it big campaign contributions. N.C. Policy Watch has reported on the growth and campaign contributions by Florida-based Charter Schools USA, which operates three charter schools in North Carolina and 70 schools overall in seven states.
So, should charter schools have additional leeway on academic performance measures? Charter schools – designed to be areas of innovation and high performance – ought to be held to high standards.